Creator-Owned Spotlight: Deadly Class and Blackhand Comics’ Wes Craig [EXCLUSIVE]

Hush Comics: What is your origin story?

Wes Craig:  Well I was a kid who always wanted to make comic books. I used to write and draw my own superhero stories in grade school. In my teens I made a comic called “J.D.” that was kind of based on me and my friends. I also did other comics like a Viking story, and a story about a man who meets the devil in a bar. 

When I graduated from high school I took a three-year course in Illustration & Design. While I was in there I started mailing away samples of work to DC and Marvel Comics. A had a few years of doing that, sending away samples, getting rejection letters. I got really close to a job when a DC editor called me and told me I was on the right track, I kept sending samples with no real response and then a year later I got a call from the same editor basically telling me the same thing but he’d forgotten that he called me the year before. Hahaha. 

I went to conventions and pitched ideas to Image Comics too, but I wasn’t quite ready yet so they never got green lit. Eventually I got a gig on a DC Comics title as my first paid gig [Ed Note: Wes’ first title was DC Comics’ Touch]. It got cancelled after only six issues. But my foot was in the door. Since then I’ve worked for DC and Marvel on a bunch of their titles – Guardians of the Galaxy was what I was most known for. When the offers weren’t coming in, I’d take jobs in video games, doing storyboards or character design, and work on my own comics.

Then one day, Rick Remender emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in working with him, I was a fan of his work so I was into it. And that brings us to Deadly Class.

HC: You have a very specific style. Which artists did you draw inspiration from when you were learning how to draw? Who continues to inspire you?

WC: It doesn’t feel like I do have a specific style honestly, but that’s probably something that a lot of artists feel. Anyway, when I was learning to draw I was a big fan of George Perez, his work on Teen Titans was the first comic I collected. Will Eisner’s The Spirit was a big one, I used to pick up black and white reprints of that from Kitchen Sink Press. 

I remember the first time I saw Moebius. Katsuhiro Otomo and Masamune Shirow. Brian Bolland. The Image guys like McFarlane were an influence early on. I still go back to a lot of Eisner, Moebius, and Otomo. I love anything from Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly. Jeff Smith. Paul Pope, David Lapham, David Mazzuchelli and a lot of the indie artists these days, people like Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Emily Carrol, Eleanore Davis. The Hernandez brothers. There’s a lot of great stuff out there.

deadly class #12

Deadly Class #12

But it’s also funny because some of the stuff you don’t like as a kid can turn into your greatest influence. When I was young I didn’t like Jack Kirby or Mike Mignola. Now they’re two of my favourite artists of all time. I just didn’t get it back then. But that’s a lesson to me as an adult, too; just because you don’t like something right away, don’t automatically reject it – maybe it’s the “shock of the new” and your brain just isn’t willing to accept it yet.

HC: What supplies do you prefer to use? Do you like traditional or digital tools more?

WC: I prefer traditional. I have friends who tell me how fast digital is, but I like the feeling of paper and ink. I use digital too, though. Especially in later stages of Blackhand Comics to adjust colors. 

deadly class pencils and ink

Credit to Twitter: @WesCraigComics

For Deadly Class, it’s deadline driven so I use standard bristol board and Sakura Calligraphy pens and brushes. Those get the job done the fastest for me. 

But for Blackhand or other personal stuff I like to change it up and try new things.

HC: What is your process when you sit down to create? Does this change when depending on what role you’re taking on for the project (writer vs artist)? Which is hardest for you?

WC: When I’m drawing Deadly Class, Rick and I usually get on the phone and talk out ideas a bit. Then I’ll get the script (page and panel breakdowns with basic description and dialogue). I usually have ideas for how I want the story to flow, changing page compositions and stuff, and Rick’s always very open to that. The final dialogue is done after I finish all the art. That’s one of my favourite aspects of Deadly Class, it feels very alive the whole time it’s being produced. When I’m doing my own work I tend to plan it to death at the beginning so when I’m doing the actual drawing it’s kind of boring, paint by numbers. So I’m trying to leave more room for improvisation now.

When I write and draw my own comics, I write description, dialogue, and do rough little thumbnail panels all at the same time, then I’ll compose it into a page and go over the dialogue and try to make it work together. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle to try and make it feel like something real is happening on the page, but that’s the challenge.

Wes Craig Blackhand script

Credit to Twitter: @WesCraigComics

So yeah, the process changes completely depending on your role. I find writing and drawing my own stuff the hardest, but also the most rewarding. 

Creating something and seeing it through the whole way kind of IS comics at it’s purest for me.

HC:I noticed that on your Twitter feed, you love sharing your recent sketches with followers – not just Deadly Class and Blackhand material, but a lot of experimentation with techniques and content. Is there any specific experimental stuff you’ve been wanting to fit into your upcoming books?

WC: Yeah, I have a lot of little experiments I’d love to try out. The thing about it, though, is it has to fit the story. I don’t want to shoehorn anything in that doesn’t belong. But yeah, lots of ideas on layering and “cut-up,” for lack of a better word. 

“Layering” has to do with looking at the page and the images as a three dimensional space, layering images and panels on top of each other. Quietly did this very affectively in We3.

A panel from Grant Morrison and Frank Quietlys We3

A panel from Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s We3

And “cut-up” just has to do with how comics work, were actions and sentences are broken up, and it creates this staccato effect.  Those are two areas I’d like to explore a lot more.

HC: Is Rick Remender really the biggest asshole in the industry? I know you guys like to give each other a hard time; do you have any stories that would give us an insight as to how your relationship works?

WC: Mr. Remender’s lawyers have informed me that I am to answer all such questions with nothing but glowing praise.

He is a saint.

HC: You, Rick and Lou are probably the best team in comic books right now. Are there any other creative teams in the business that you admire?

WC: Sure. Like I’ve said mostly I’m a fan of cartoonists that do the whole thing themselves but there are a few creative teams that work so well together you’d think it was one person. 

I think we’ve worked well together and gotten that effect sometimes. Unfortunately, Lee won’t be working with us going forward, but you can see his work on a bunch of other great Image series like Southern Cross and Wolf. But we have Jordan Boyd working with us now and he’s amazing, and I think we’ve managed to keep things very unified. Also, Rus Wooton on letters really helps bring it all together. That’s my favourite part of the process: seeing a page where we’re all coming together seamlessly. 

Anyway, I think Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser are great. Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly, too. 

HC: Why Image Comics? What about working with them do you enjoy?

WC: Working with Rick was a big draw, but so was working through Image. They’re just really strong right now, they’re making a lot of good decisions and publishing a lot of good books.

HC: If you could clone yourself and jump on to do art for another title in the industry, what would it be?

WC: Honestly, I’d just do more of my own stuff. Blackhand Comics, and other projects I have in mind for the future. I try and get as much of that done between issues of Deadly Class as I can, but it’s tough. 

HC: Deadly Class comments on homelessness and the lengths one will go for security. How do you think we can help our homeless population, especially our homeless youth?

WC: Well, I think affordable housing is the thing that stands out the most for me. Cities never invest enough in that kind of thing; they say they will then they just keep building condos for the rich. 

Really, I think the best thing is to ask homeless people what they think. But my thoughts on it are that people need dignity and a purpose. They don’t need to be coddled and treated like they’re incapable, they just need a little help, a leg up. And shelter where they can feel secure and human. 

HC: Deadly Class seems to be a lightning rod for teenage angst and rebellion. Do you feel the book has transcended to something beyond the book’s stories?

WC: Well, we hope so. It seems to have reached older people who can relive those experiences with some adult perspective. and younger people who are growing up now, and see things they can relate to. The letters we get really blow me away, how passionate people are about it.

That connection people have, I think that’s the part I’m most proud of. It’s a really violent series, but underneath there’s a lot of heart and real feelings. And we try not to treat the assassin angle like it’s “cool.” Killing is a terrible thing, so when it happens, it’s not some victorious moment; it makes the character physically sick, or it damages something inside of them. I don’t know if I’ve always put that across to the audience, but that’s what I try to do.

HC: If you had to choose one of your books’ worlds to live in, which would you choose and why? Who would you want as an ally?

WC: Man, definitely not Deadly Class, that school is terrible. I guess that short story in Blackhand I did called “Circus Day.” That place seemed pretty harmless. I’d just hand out with the clowns and the freaks all day.

HC: You’ve got a T-Shirt on the way, and I’ve been trying to get my hands on a skateboard deck for months now. Do you see Deadly Class ever being branded the way The Walking Dead is one day?

WC: If we ended up with a TV show or a movie, I’d imagine there’d be some more merchandising. Right now, I’d like to keep it pretty simple, though. 

DeadlyT_Size

You can pre-order these shirts, due in October, at your local comic shop.

HC:You have announced some new Blackhand stories, with more coming soon. How will these differ from the first published volume?

WC: I keep going back and forth on that. I have an overall concept in mind for a second volume, a kind of apocalyptic theme. But there’s other ideas I have too, sometimes I think I’ll just do the first volume and that’s it, other times I want to do it more than anything. So we’ll see. 

Right now it’s looking like I’ll be going ahead with it though.There would be a lot more stories in a second volume and a more standard format. But like the first volume, a lot of dark, pulpy weirdness.


You can find Wes Craig on Twitter (@WesCraigComics), Tumblr (WesCraigComics), Facebook (Wes Craig Comics), or online at BlackhandComics.com. You can even buy original (or prints of) Deadly Class art at Cadence Comics.

Buy Blackhand Comics: Volume 1
Buy Deadly Class Volume 1: Reagan Youth & Volume 2: Kids of the Black Hole, pre-order Volume 3: Snake Pit

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